It should be child’s playThe government and ruling party finally came up with measures to address a snowballing scandal over the misappropriation of public funds at private preschool institutions. Under the measures, the number of spaces available at public preschools will be increased to provide room for 40 percent of children by 2021, up from the current 25 percent.
All kindergartens will be forced to comply with state-administered accounting programs, which will put bookkeeping under the scrutiny of the authorities. Any institution found to not be complying will be named and punished publicly. Central and local governments will acquire private facilities to turn them into public centers.
The question is whether the measures can be put into practice. The Education Ministry came up with a package in February last year upon learning of similar misuse of state subsidies. But the remedial bill was killed by politicians yielding to protests from kindergarten principals. Another 2 trillion won ($1.76 billion) of tax funds went down the drain because of the dilly-dallying. The Korea Kindergarten Association that represents private institutions across the nation disavowed the government measure as “shocking and unacceptable.”
A more practical approach is in need. Private institutions make up 4,200 out of 9,021 preschools across the nation, hosting 500,000 children. The private sector rejects the idea because it will lose children to cheaper public-funded institutions if the latter increases in numbers.
Instead of building new facilities, it would be better for city or district administrations to purchase private facilities or assist them in converting into incorporated entities. They should clearly define private ownership rights. The state-administered accounting system should be employed immediately instead of putting the work off for two years.
Authorities should consider redesigning the preschool education system. New births are hovering below 300,000. Instead of categorizing kindergartens and day care centers as preschool, the government should come up with a blueprint to improve the child care system in a comprehensive and transparent manner.
The National Assembly should immediately pass the three bills aimed to curb irregularities in preschools. We don’t need to borrow the famous Robert Fulghum quote that “All I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten” to emphasize the importance of preschool education.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 26, Page 34